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Commodore's report and
Misc. Forum Postings re. the loss of Robert H. Colley
Convoy HX 209

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Commodore's Report:
"At 16:45 4th Oct. in position 58 57N 26 20W number 81 the Robert H. Colley was observed to be floating in two sections, at first it was thought that she had been torpedoed and was reported to Commodore as so. An R/T message was immediately trasmitted to the escort to this effect. At 16:47 Ocean Courage (61) reported that 81 had broken in two, this was passed by V/S to HMS Pennywort who was just ahead of convoy. Number 81 (this should be 71) the Lewis Luckenbach was then asked to report what she had observed. Her reply was that she thought number (number is missing, should probably be 81?) had broken in two as she had neither seen nor heard any explosion. Upon receipt of this reply another message was made by R/T to all escorts that number 81 had broken in two as no explosion had been seen or heard by ships in the immediate vicinity. During all this HMS Beverley was observed to be closing the wreck fast evidently to rescue any survivors. We were unable to pass any V/S to the S/O of escort owing to extreme bad visibility during the period. Weather at the time was very bad with a very heavy stern sea running."

Here's what the various sources say about the fate of Robert H. Colley:
"The Allied Convoy System", Arnold Hague states Robert H. Colley, cargo of 154 000(?) barrels FFO, was sunk by U-254 on Oct. 4, 33 survived.
"Axis Submarine Successes of WW II" by Jürgen Rohwer gives the same U-boat, with the German time 14:32 on Oct 3 (59 06N 26 18W).
"The World's Merchant Fleets", R. W. Jordan gives the same U-boat and position as Rohwer, date Oct. 4, adding that 28 died, 33 survived, afterpart was shelled by the corvette HMS Borage on Oct. 5, sunk in 58 44N 24 54W.
"Lloyd's War Losses", Vol II states she was on a voyage from Curacao and New York for Clyde with 15 400 barrels of fuel oil, lost in in position 59 6N 26 18W, 33 saved, adding "Chief Engineer states at about 4.40 p.m. Oct. 4 an explosion took place at 6 tank starboard side and vessel broke in two. He states that he does not wish to commit himself to saying ship was torpedoed because the explosion was slight. Sunk by escort gunfire in 58 44N 24 54W Oct. 5, 7.15 p.m.".
(The above mentioned books are listed in my Books & Acknowledgments section).

There seems to be some doubt as to the validity of the claim that this ship was sunk by U-254. What follows is from this thread on my ship forum.

The discussion starts with a query by Jan-Olof, Sweden, posted on Dec. 7-2004:
I am slightly confused, from looking through the sources at my disposal, regarding the loss of the U.S. tanker Robert H. Colley in early October 1942. As far as I can tell, all sources seems to agree to the following:

- She was part of convoy HX.209
- She was torpedoed by U 254

So far there are no problems here except that U 254 made her attack at 14:32 hours on 03.10.42 in AK 5561, i.e. 56N/33W. This information is found in Rohwer and other sources.

Lloyd's War Losses, Browning and others place the attack at 16:40 hours on 04.10.42 (a day later) in position 59N/26W (quite some distance from the position reported by U 254).

I can't make head or tail of this, hopefully someone else can.


Misc. replies to the above query:

Hi Jan-Olof,
from "A careless word, a needless sinking": this ship was in a convoy of 36 merchant ships and 6 british escort vessels. At 1632 local time a torpedo struck just forward of the mainmast. The ship immediately broke in two in heavy seas. The forward section sank during the night, but the stern section had to be sunk by an escort vessel with gunfire and depth charges at 1600 hrs on October 5, 1942.
As you know, the research of Capt. Moore, book's author, is considered the most accurate to date. There is an inexplicable discrepancy between German & British/American records in regard to many sinking, the difference being one day most of the times (compare Jordan & Rohwer for example).
At any rate, Capt. Moore gives the attack position as 390 nm SW of Reykjavik, 59.06 N, 26.18 W. It is possible Prof Rohwer may have been mistaken when making his entry. Perhaps Rainer Bruns or someone at could help with a more accurate German side of the story?
Regards, Brian


Hello Jan Olof
ROBERT H COLLEY I believe was not torpedoed by U-254 3rd Oct 42. Without doubt the tanker came to grief on 4th OCTOBER around 1640 whether by unknown U-boat or bad weather. I am not sure at this stage, as I have not looked looked at the archives at PRO, but should it be a U-boat then it points to one that never made it back to base. If this was the case then the finger points I suggest to U-619 who was lost 5th Oct 42 (see Axel Niestle German U-boats destroyed.

Chief Engineer quoted in Lloyd's War Losses "4th October 1942 at about 4.40 pm (1640) Oct 4th an explosion took place at 6 tank starboard side and ship broke in two. He states that he does not wish to commit himself to saying ship was torpedoed because the explosion was slight".

David Sibley


Hello Jan-Olof

You are absolutely right in your doubts. It is sure that U-254 has not sunk Robert H Colley on Oct 3rd. We have talked about the documents Prof. Rohwer used for his great work some time ago in an other case. Here he is definately wrong. KTB SKL shows the attack of U-254 the next day, Oct 4th and tells that U-254 sunk an ABANDONED TANKER!!! in AK 5561. Another riddle, what ship? My research in the Robert H. Colley sinking pointed out U-582 as the most probable boat. She sighted HX-209 on Oct 4th at 16.20 h in square AK 36. This is the last sign of life of U-582. There was no other boat as near at Robert H. Colley as U-582. The other possibility would be U-619, but she was too far away. She met U-382 in square AK 33 at the same day. The next day, Oct 5th both boats were sunk by allied aircrafts. I am sure U-582 has to be credited with the sinking of Robert H. Colley. A map is shown here:

Best regards
Roland Berr


Hello Brian, David and Roland,

Thank you very much for sharing your insights into this matter. It definitely seems as if U 254 had nothing to do with the loss of the Robert H. Colley. As Roland wrote, one might wonder as to the identity of the 'tanker' which was attacked by U 254 on 03 (or was it 04).10.42. Another thing that might be worth looking into is if U 619 or U 582 sent any revealing messages to BdU prior to being sunk.

Best regards,



Hi Jan-Olof

I noticed this discrepancy of the date also and put it on top of my "to-do list" for further research, but I'm currently in my annual military service and have no time for it at the moment.

Could you please ask Klaus-Peter for a copy of U-254's KTB? Or does Roland already have a copy? We have to be sure about the attack time and position of this boat.

Another thing I noticed: Moore gives as position 59°06N/26°18W, but Browning 59°06N/28°18W

Best regards
Rainer Kolbicz


Hello Jan Olof

The Robert H Colley wreck was sunk by an escort gunfire in 58.44N 24.54W according to Lloyds War losses. Originally it was torpedoed in postion 59.06N 26.18W. U-582 was sunk 58.52N 21.42W by an USN Catalina from VP.73 Squadron 10.25 5th October. U-619 was sunk 5th Oct 11.53 by an RAF *Catalina from 269 Squadron 58.41N 22.58W. The possible silence from U-582 and U-619 could have been due to considerable air activity or has happened just a few days previous solar activity interfering with communications - a thing that was not that unusual in the North Atlantic as I have experienced.

* David later posted another message saying: "Re my information of 11th December concerning who sank U-619 please replace "Catalina" aircraft of RAF 269 Squadron to read "Hudson" aircraft".
My apologies.

U-254 did attack a burnt out tanker on the 3rd October but which ship was this. Looking at Prof Rohwer book one has to go back quite a few days to find a tanker that was attacked and it could be the ESSO WILLIAMSBURG. No other tanker is reported as missing according to Lloyds War Losses, nor any freighter with engines aft. The American tanker was attacked as shown by U-211 at 23/0026 CET (22/2206 GMT). According to it's KTB it did not actually see it sink. A search later for survivors and the ship did not find either. A distress signal from a lifeboat was received from a US warship in position 53.10N 41.00W. according to LWL Volume 2. U-211 heard this signal but there was no ship's name. U-211 reported that the ship broke in two. U-211 gave the grid code for its attack as AK7114 which is approximately 53.33N 39.55W.

That U-254 attacked a burnt out tanker (but until copy of KTB seen not known if it was a part of a tanker that was attacked) it is not beyond reason that it must have been a loaded tanker that was burnt out and in the North Atlantic must have been east bound. Further as the prevailing winds are westerlies that a hulk could have floated for 11 days is not entirely improbable.

David Sibley


Here the page of the KTB U 254. Its definitely on october 3, 1942 and the tanker seemed to be abandoned. 254.tif

Will check if I can find some informations about the other boats in this area



Hi Klaus-Peter

Many thanks for taking the time to post the KTB of U-254.

From the description it is clear that the target couldn't be ROBERT H. COLLEY. Most likely attacker is indeed U-582.

But which ship was sunk by U-254 then?

David suggested ESSO WILLIAMSBURG, but this tanker was seen to break in two completely while U-254 describes the target as abandoned tanker of about 8000 grt with a settled bow and the stern out of the water. Could it be ATHELSULTAN which was torpedoed by U-617 on 23 Sep, 1942? Has someone further details about the loss of this tanker?

Best regards


Its not U 582 too.

U 582 reported on october 10, at 19h07 a convoi and next morning at 4h30 a breakdown of the emitter. If a tanker would have been torpedoed in the afternoon of the 4th, it would have been reported

see KTB: 582.tif

and it was not U 619 too, because no indications in her FT's from october 4 and 5 619.tif



Hi Klaus-Peter

Thank you again for your invaluable help.

ROBERT H. COLLEY was torpedoed at 16.32 hours local time on 4 October.

Hmm.. now I will do some time calculating and someone should please correct me if I am wrong ;)

The area in which the tanker was torpedoed lies in GMT + 2h
16h32 + 2h = 18h32
In October 1942 the Summer time was in use in Germany
GMT + 2h = MESZ
18h32 + 2h = 20h32

Only a thought of me:
If 20.32 hours is correct, U-582 was in contact with a convoy at the time when the tanker was torpedoed and the U-boat was apparently the nearest to the loss position.

Could it be that U-582 tried to send a success report but problems with the radio prevented this?

Well, I see three possibilities:
1. U-582 was the attacker and didn't manage to report it
2. Another U-boat attacked the convoy and thought it missed, but hit the ROBERT H. COLLEY (I will check if I can find something)
3. The tanker wasn't torpedoed at all and simply broke in two in strong seas

Best regards


Hello Rainer,
Re the saga of ROBERT H COLLEY, U-254 U-582 U-619.
I think there are only two possibilities either it was U-582 or the tanker broke up. I drew attention to the fact that the Chief Engineer of the tanker did not want to put his hand up and say the ship was torpedoed, because the explosion was slight. I would further point out if the tanker had been torpedoed, there is no mention as far as I am aware so far, there is not mention of oil being thrown up or the ship catching fire. Until I can get to PRO in a couple of months to see what there is in the files of HX.209 I reserve judgement.
U-582 reported at 1907 CET he was with the convoy, and nothing further until next morning when he reported transmitter problems, but if managed to transmit that, then perhaps he would have made a short reference to having attacked a tanker. I have as yet any detail of U-619 transmitting on the 5th but I know it transmited it's position on the 4th.

Regarding U-254 this boat reported attacking a burnt out tanker with the forepart awash, and the after section above the surface, with a lifeboat in the falls hanging down. This could not have been the ATHELSULTAN, as had been suggested because she sank stern first and the Master who was in the water saw her go.

U-211 did not see the ESSO WILLIAMSBURG sink, she saw her break in two with the parts drifting. I have conducted an exercise from the reported position of U-211 and the reported position of U254 some 11 days later a time span of 254 hours. The position of U-211 ak7114 = 53.33n 39.55w approximately, and U-254 ak5561 = 55.09n 32.55w. a rhumb line distance of 263 miles and the course of drift for a derelict 68.6º which somewhat east of north east. I put it to you that the prevailing winds in the North Atlantic are from the west or either side of it, that is not unreasonable to think a derelict if it's hull has some buoyancy it could have drifted this distance in the time span which calls for just over 1 knot helped by the winds to push in the direction indicated.

However until I do more research on HX.209 at PRO the matter rests.

Kind Regards


Here is the operation chard from october 2 to ctober 6, 1942.

I have checked all the KTB's of the mentioned boats, no one they all where in the vicinity, tried to attack the convoy, but no one reported an attack. All boats which were in good attack position were forced to dive and to avoid the surrounding destroyers.



Additionally, I've received the following E-mail from George Reed, who was on board Taranaki at the time:

"I would like to add to the discussions that have taken place re the sinking of the Robert H Colley in Convoy HX 209. I was a 20 year old seaman sailing on the MV Taranaki in Convoy HX 209 when I witnessed the Robert H Colley break in two. The seas when this tragedy took place were absolutely mountainous, I estimated that they were of a vertical height of about 80 feet - one of the few times when I felt somewhat scared during my seafaring carrer. I note that Commodore Magee wrote that the "Robert H Colley broke in two in heavy sea" and I could not agree with him more. There was no visible explosion such as one would expect from a torpedo strike. I cannot imagine that under those circumstances a submarine could or would attempt any kind of action, except to avoid such mountainous seas - it would have been absolutely suicidal - there is no way a submarine captain could have controled his craft. Indeed, I well remember that we were in a sense grateful that the prevailing conditions prevented any kind of submarine operating there."

If anyone sailed with George Reed and would like to contact him, I'd be happy to pass on his E-mail address - my address has been provided at the bottom of this page. He later joined Akaroa, and has also told me about a voyage with this ship as follows:

"From the dates it would appear to be Convoy HX 253 which is recorded as having arrived in Liverpool on 4th September 1943, although my discharge book gives "Date and Place of Discharge" as 3rd September 1943. We were en route to the UK from Australia/New Zealand via the Panama Canal. We arrived in Halifax just as a convoy was leaving. Obviously we were unable to join the convoy so had to wait a week in Halifax. When we did leave, instead of heading more or less directly to the UK we headed north-east up into pack ice with pieces up to 5 ft above water. Do remember that only about a fifth of a chunk of floating ice was above water - the remaining 4/5's being below the water line. We were the second ship in the line and after several days the lead ship was holed - not badly - but enough to cause the powers that be to have her drop back in the line, and we then became the lead ship. My berth was in the foscle. Although the temperature was sub-zero we kept the cabin door sufficiently ajar so that in the event of an emergency, hopefully, it would not jam shut. As the corridor, into which the door opened, led to the open deck was quite short it was not possible to keep the cabin all that warm. But the biggest discomfort was from the ice floes - which being as much as 5 feet showing above water, ie some 20 feet plus or minus below water - were grinding alongside as the ship forced its way through them. With only the thickness of a steel plate between us (8 to a cabin) and these large chunks of ice grinding along for every minute of the day and night for nearly a week it was a most noisy and uncomfortable trip."

Again, if anyone served with George Reed on this ship, I can provide his address.

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